Sowing the seeds in Scotland

It started on an escalator 30 feet below ground at Cantagalo Metro station in Copacabana in Rio…A chat about a mutual deep love of Scotland; good friends, studying, living there, working there, choirs in homeless centres and by the time Matt Peacock (Director of With One Voice) and Shelly Coyne had emerged onto street level a seed had been sown and a question asked; could Scotland achieve the unthinkable and be the first country to have a fully integrated arts and homeless sector which is embedded in national government policy?

(Disclaimer: no Caipirinha had been consumed before this conversation!) 

Why Rio? Well, Shelly was one of the lucky 17 delegates joining others from around the world for the 3rd With One Voice exchange in July 2016, a trip funded for her by The University of Edinburgh.  This would become a pilot study for Shelly’s PhD (exploring the world of choirs and community singing groups set up for people who have experienced homelessness) and prove to be a unique opportunity to meet, observe and interview choir leader Rico and members of his 11 choirs.  It would also lead to Shelly meeting some inspirational and wonderful people and making some good friends from Rio and around the world.

(Delegates from the With One Voice exchange in Rio, July 2016)

Shelly and Matt’s paths had crossed before and they’d had an opportunity to work together while Shelly was running the Lodging House Mission Choir in the East End of Glasgow.  The choir’s 3-year partnership with Scottish Opera coincided with the first With One Voice event in London and the choir were invited to perform an excerpt of a piece they had written called Who Killed John King? A trip that played a large part in Shelly deciding to return to University and do a PhD.

On returning home from Rio, there was a flurry of chats, emails and general excitement between Ellie Raymont (With One Voice Producer), Matt and Shelly. They realised they had the essential ingredients for a Scottish Review of Arts and Homelessness; strong connections and a passion for the arts in Scotland, some knowledge of the local arts and homeless sector and financial support from The Scottish Graduate School of Arts and Humanities to allow Shelly to conduct a 3-month placement with With One Voice.  This would be the first step to understanding the arts and homeless sector in Scotland, mapping current projects, understanding the challenges and barriers and identify how With One Voice might support a movement in Scotland and help meet some of the need.

The final ingredients to make this a ground breaking country review are partnerships with Edinburgh University, Creative Scotland and the Scottish Government and for Shelly to be joined by a team of researchers who themselves have experienced homelessness. The co-researchers have been involved in choirs, drama groups and performing opera; they agreed to join the team as each one testified to the life changing, and in some cases life-saving, impact of being involved in the arts. Pictured above are Shelly, Ann, Pat, William and Jacqui; the research team

It’s May 2017 and Spring has truly sprung in Scotland; the initial mapping phase has finished, and 14 different arts and homeless activities have been identified, with the majority in Glasgow and Edinburgh.  There has been a very positive response to idea of the review and invites are arriving for the research team to visit projects and meet participants, practitioners and project leaders. There is a networking and consultation event planned in conjunction with Edinburgh University, the Scottish Government and Creative Scotland in the Autumn, an on-line survey and the final report will be completed in November.  Currently the research team are honing their interview skills, refining their questions and are raring to get out there to find out a bit more about the sector.

We would love to hear from you if you are involved in this work or wish to be involved – it’s a very exciting time to be in Scotland!

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